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Trump Said He Was the President of Manufacturing. Then Disaster Struck.

For a leader who has embraced the language of a wartime president, it is as if the Pentagon asked for missiles and bombers but wouldn’t say how many or where they should be delivered.



By David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman

When President Trump came to office, he promised a new day with America’s manufacturers, casting himself as the first president who understood their needs. He toured factory floors, often handing out his signature “Make America Great Again” hats.

Yet in the first national crisis that required harnessing American manufacturing ingenuity and ramping up production of ventilators, perhaps the most crucial piece of equipment for patients in crisis, the White House’s ability to gather the power of American industry crumpled.

It was unable to communicate how many ventilators it would need or how quickly it would need them. Mr. Trump set states off on a mad scramble to find their own, leading to bidding wars against one another. Even today it is unclear who is deciding where the new American production will be directed — to the highest bidders or to the cities that need them most.

A week after praising General Motors and a small ventilator manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems, for their voluntary efforts to combine cutting-edge technology with G.M.’s expertise at supply chains and mass production, the president blew up at the world’s largest carmaker, accusing its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, of moving too slowly and trying to “rip off” the federal government. In fact, G.M. and Ventec had already signed a partnership — without government help — to ramp up production.

Interviews with White House officials, industry executives and outsiders who tried to intervene make two problems clear. Mr. Trump’s first mistake was recognizing the problem far too late, even though his own medical experts had identified a probable shortage of ventilators as a critical problem in late January, as panic set in that the virus was headed to the United States. Had the president acted sooner, thousands of new ventilators would probably be coming off production lines next month, when they are likely to be desperately needed.

And even after the problem was recognized, and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, took over the process, both the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency struggled to define what was needed, who would pay for it and how to solve the problem of supply chains that stretched across more than a dozen countries.

“We’re going to have plenty,” Mr. Trump said Friday afternoon, declaring that he was invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War-era law, to force the companies to make more. But he gave no numbers — and glided past the complexities of getting between 700 and 1,500 components from more than a dozen nations.

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Liberty University Brings Back Its Students, and Coronavirus, Too

The decision by the school’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., to partly reopen his evangelical university enraged residents of Lynchburg, Va. Then students started getting sick.


By Elizabeth Williamson

LYNCHBURG, Va. — As Liberty University’s spring break was drawing to a close this month, Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, spoke with the physician who runs Liberty’s student health service about the rampaging coronavirus.

“We’ve lost the ability to corral this thing,” Dr. Thomas W. Eppes Jr. said he told Mr. Falwell. But he did not urge him to close the school. “I just am not going to be so presumptuous as to say, ‘This is what you should do and this is what you shouldn’t do,’” Dr. Eppes said in an interview.

So Mr. Falwell — a staunch ally of President Trump and an influential voice in the evangelical world — reopened the university last week, igniting a firestorm, epidemiologically and otherwise. As of Friday, Dr. Eppes said, nearly a dozen Liberty students were sick with symptoms that suggest Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Three were referred to local hospital centers for testing. Another eight were told to self-isolate.

“Liberty will be notifying the community as deemed appropriate and required by law,” Mr. Falwell said in an interview on Sunday when confronted with the numbers. He added that any student returning now to campus would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“I can’t be sure what’s going on with individuals who are not being tested but who are advised to self-isolate,” said Kerry Gateley, the health director of the Central Virginia Health District, which covers Lynchburg. “I would assume that if clinicians were concerned enough about the possibility of Covid-19 disease to urge self-isolation that appropriate screening and testing would be arranged.”

Of the 1,900 students who initially returned last week to campus, Mr. Falwell said more than 800 had left. But he said he had “no idea” how many students had returned to off-campus housing.

“If I were them, I’d be more nervous,” he added, because they live in more crowded conditions.

For critical weeks in January and February, the nation’s far right dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic. Mr. Falwell derided it as an “overreaction” driven by liberal desires to damage Mr. Trump.

Though the current crisis would appear epidemiological in nature, Dr. Eppes said he saw it as a reflection of “the political divide.”

“If Liberty sneezes, there are people who don’t like the fact that Liberty sneezed,” he said in an interview. “Mr. Falwell called me to listen to a view that wasn’t exactly his. Great leaders do that type of thing.”

The city of Lynchburg is furious.

“We had a firestorm of our own citizens who said, ‘What’s going on?’” said Treney Tweedy, the mayor.

Some Liberty officials accuse alarmed outsiders of playing politics. Ms. Tweedy has called Mr. Falwell “reckless.” And within the school, there are signs of panic.

“I’m not allowed to talk to you because I’m an employee here,” one student living on campus wrote in an email. But, he pleaded, “we need help to go home.”

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Rebecca Long-Bailey says Labour leadership contest to end in ‘bizarre’ way

The shadow business secretary said the move was to “deal with these strange times” following lockdown measures in the UK during the Covid-19 outbreak. Ms Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy and Sir Keir Starmer are the three remaining candidates, with the successor to Jeremy Corbyn due to be announced on April 4. She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think it’s trying to deal with these strange times and have an announcement on the leadership contest that our members and the public can view from their homes really.

“It’s logistically quite challenging and I think we’ve all been asked to do this victory speech so that it can be send out over the airwaves as quickly as possible after we win.

“I haven’t done mine yet, by the way.”

Asked if she would feel awkward recording the video ahead of the result, Ms Long-Bailey said: “It’s going to be a bit bizarre.”

Ms Long-Bailey did not rule out potentially joining a national unity government if elected as the next Labour leader.

Asked if she would be prepared to join such a government, she told Sky’s Sophy Ridge programme: “I’ve already been collaborating with the government and urging them to listen to my advice and the advice of my colleagues in tackling this crisis, because we want to be as helpful as possible.”

She added: “We are not criticising the government when we are offering our suggestions as to how this crisis can be better dealt with.

“We’re trying to help and that’s what I’ll do as leader, and that’s what I’ll do if I’m not leader, if I’m supporting a new leader.”

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Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, headed to Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in American history – to help people and businesses cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak. Republican President Donald Trump said he would sign it at 4 p.m. EDT (2000 GMT).

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate on the House floor. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote that could have delayed its passage.

Massie, an independent-minded Republican who has repeatedly defied party leaders, wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request.

Related Coverage

  • Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package
  • Factbox: 'Mr. No': Meet the U.S. congressman who requested a formal vote to delay the coronavirus bill

On Twitter, Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” and said he should be thrown out of the Republican Party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote Trump, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. Lawmakers from as far away as California were present for the debate. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members, who used hand sanitizer and in at least one case wore protective gloves.

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote on Wednesday evening, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until late April.

Older people have proven especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The average age of House members was 58 at the beginning of 2019, well above the average age of 38 for the U.S. population as a whole.

‘THE VIRUS IS HERE’

Democratic and Republican leaders appeared together at a news conference to celebrate the bill’s passage — an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The rare but deep bipartisan support in Congress underscored how seriously lawmakers are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system threatens to buckle.

On Thursday, the United States surpassed China and Italy on as the country with the most coronavirus cases. The number of U.S. cases passed 87,000, and the death toll exceeded 1,300.

Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

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Pelosi expects bipartisan House vote for $2 trillion coronavirus bill Friday

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she expected the chamber to pass an estimated $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill when it meets on Friday, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the unprecedented economic rescue legislation Wednesday evening.

“Tomorrow we’ll bring the bill to the floor. It will pass with strong bipartisan support,” Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters.

The legislation will rush direct payments to Americans within three weeks once the Democratic-controlled House passes it and Republican President Donald Trump signs it into law, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The Republican-led Senate approved the bill – which would be the largest fiscal stimulus measure ever passed by Congress – by 96 votes to zero late on Wednesday, overcoming bitter partisan negotiations and boosting its chances of passing the House.

The unanimous Senate vote, a rare departure from bitter partisanship in Washington that followed several days of wrangling, underscored how seriously members of Congress are taking the global pandemic as Americans suffer and the medical system reels.

“When there’s a crisis of this magnitude, the private sector cannot solve it,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Related Coverage

  • Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion Senate coronavirus rescue package

“Individuals, even with bravery and valor, are not powerful enough to beat it back. Government is the only force large enough to staunch the bleeding and begin the healing.”

The package is intended to flood the country with cash in an effort to stem the crushing impact on the economy of an intensifying pandemic that has killed about 1,000 people in the United States and infected nearly 70,000.

Pelosi said there was no question more money would be needed to fight the coronavirus. She said House committees would be working on the next phase in the near term, even if the full chamber is not in session. She said lawmakers would need to be on call for possible votes.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy also backs the relief plan, but said he wanted it to be allowed to work before deciding whether more legislation was needed.

“This will be probably the largest bill anybody in Congress has ever voted for,” he told reporters.

Only two other countries, China and Italy, have more coronavirus cases than the United States. The World Health Organization has warned the United States looks set to become the epicenter of the pandemic.

The American government’s intervention follows two other packages that became law this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the total $4.7 trillion the federal government spends annually.

Trump, who has promised to sign the bill as soon as it passes the House, expressed his delight on Twitter. “96-0 in the United States Senate. Congratulations AMERICA!” he wrote.

Pelosi said House leaders were planning a voice vote on the rescue plan on Friday, but said leaders would be prepared for other contingencies. She had said a day earlier that if there were calls for a vote recorded by name, lawmakers might be able to vote by proxy, as not all would attend.

“If somebody has a different point of view (about the bill), they can put it in the record,” she said, referring to the Congressional Record.

McCarthy predicted the measure would pass Friday morning following a debate.

The massive bill, worth more than $2 trillion, includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of families.

The legislation will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The House has 430 members, most of whom have been out of Washington since March 14. Many want to return for the vote, but for all to attend would be difficult, given that at least two have tested positive for the coronavirus, a handful of others are in self-quarantine, and several states have issued stay-at-home orders. There are five vacant House seats.

The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Thune, missed Wednesday’s vote because he was not feeling well. His spokesman said Thune, 59, flew back to his state, South Dakota, on a charter flight Wednesday, accompanied by a Capitol Police officer and wearing a mask.

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Historic $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill passes U.S. House, becomes law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved a $2.2 trillion aid package – the largest in history – to help cope with the economic downturn inflicted by the intensifying coronavirus pandemic, and President Donald Trump quickly signed it into law.

The massive bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives nearly unanimously. The rare bipartisan action underscored how seriously Republican and Democratic lawmakers are taking the global pandemic that has killed more than 1,500 Americans and shaken the nation’s medical system.

“Our nation faces an economic and health emergency of historic proportions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the worst pandemic in over 100 years,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at the close of a three-hour debate before the lower chamber approved the bill. “Whatever we do next, right now we’re going to pass this legislation.”

The massive bill also rushes billions of dollars to medical providers on the front lines of the outbreak.

But the bipartisan spirit seemed to end at the White House. Neither Pelosi nor Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was invited to Trump’s all-Republican signing ceremony for the bill, aides said.

Their Republican counterparts, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did attend, along with three Republican House members.

“This will deliver urgently needed relief to our nation’s families, workers and businesses,” Trump said. “I really think in a fairly short period of time … we’ll be stronger than ever.”

Related Coverage

  • Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package
  • Factbox: 'Mr. No': Meet the U.S. congressman who requested a formal vote to delay the coronavirus bill

The Democratic-led House approved the package on a voice vote, turning back a procedural challenge from Republican Representative Thomas Massie, who had sought to force a formal, recorded vote.

To keep Massie’s gambit from delaying the bill’s passage, hundreds of lawmakers from both parties returned to Washington despite the risk of contracting coronavirus. For many, that meant long drives or overnight flights.

One member who spent hours in a car was Republican Representative Greg Pence, the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump has put in charge of efforts to handle the coronavirus crisis.

Pence drove the nearly 600 miles (966 km) from his home state, Indiana, to Washington on Thursday. “We can’t afford to wait another minute,” he said on Twitter.

‘THIRD RATE GRANDSTANDER’

Massie wrote on Twitter that he thought the bill contained too much extraneous spending and gave too much power to the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank. His fellow lawmakers overruled his request for a recorded vote.

Trump attacked Massie on Twitter, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and saying he should be thrown out of the Republican party. “He just wants the publicity,” wrote the president, who last week began pushing for urgent action on coronavirus after long downplaying the risk.

Democratic and Republican leaders had asked members to return to Washington to ensure there would be enough present to head off Massie’s gambit. The session was held under special rules to limit the spread of the disease among members.

At least five members of Congress have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than two dozen have self-quarantined to limit its spread.

The Senate, which approved the bill in a unanimous vote late on Wednesday, has adjourned and is not scheduled to return to Washington until April 20.

Democratic and Republican House leaders appeared together at a news conference at the Capitol to celebrate the bill’s passage — an unusual event for a chamber that is normally sharply divided along partisan lines.

“The virus is here. We did not ask for it, we did not invite it. We did not choose it. But with the passing of the bill you will see that we will fight it together, and we will win together,” McCarthy said.

He did not say whether Massie would face any disciplinary measures from the party.

The rescue package is the largest fiscal relief measure ever passed by Congress.

The $2.2 trillion measure includes $500 billion to help hard-hit industries and $290 billion for payments of up to $3,000 to millions of families.

It will also provide $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

The number of coronavirus cases in the United States exceeded 100,000 on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, the most of any country.

Adding to the misery, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to 3.28 million, the highest level ever.

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World's ailing airlines appeal for aid as U.S. offers $58 billion

DUBAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Global airlines urged the world’s major economies to act quickly to prevent irreversible damage to an industry that has seen demand decimated almost overnight by the coronavirus crisis.

Several states have already stepped in to help airlines hammered by the travel slump, with the United States offering $58 billion in aid, Singapore announcing support for aviation and Australia easing competition rules.

As leaders from the Group of 20 nations met for a video summit, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) asked governments to provide or facilitate financial support for the major carriers it represents.

“The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe and the resulting government-mandated border closings and travel restrictions have led to the destruction of air travel demand,” IATA Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac said in an open letter.

Underlining the industry’s plight, AirAsia, the region’s biggest budget carrier, became the latest to announce sweeping schedule cuts and said some of its businesses would halt flights altogether for a period.

Singapore Airlines said it would tap existing investors for up to S$15 billion ($10.5 billion) through the sale of shares and convertible bonds to offset the shock to its business from the coronavirus outbreak.

Related Coverage

  • U.S. airlines to dash for cash grants, not loans, even with potential government stake
  • IATA urges G20 to support airline industry

It also arranged a S$4 billion bridge loan.

“Many airlines have been paying out more in refunds than they have received in new booking revenues,” de Juniac, a former head of Air France-KLM, said.

“The average two-month cash reserves held by airlines are rapidly being exhausted,” de Juniac added, calling for direct financial support, loans or tax relief.

LOADING CARGO

In a desperate bid to preserve some revenues and keep global supply chains operating, U.S. Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways joined a list of carriers that have offered to charter passenger planes as freight transporters, using their spacious cargo holds.

About half of the world’s air cargo normally travels in the bellies of passenger planes, so the cancellation of passenger flights has led to a sharp reduction in capacity, with knock-on effects on food, industry and other trade.

U.S. airlines, like others around the globe, have been reeling from the slide in passenger numbers and on Wednesday the U.S. Senate passed a $58 billion rescue package, half in the form of grants to cover some 750,000 airline staff wages.

Those receiving funds cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30 or change collective bargaining pacts. [L1N2BI0XW]

The bill has restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive pay, and allows the government to take equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the package.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to back the move on Friday. President Donald Trump has promised to sign it.

A HEAVY PRICE

IATA, which estimates the pandemic will cost the global industry $252 billion in lost revenues this year, said earlier it had written to 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, Japan and South Korea for emergency support.

Australia and New Zealand have joined other governments in announcing some financial relief. But this has not stopped carriers from putting staff on leave and grounding planes.

Virgin Australia plans to permanently cut more than 1,000 jobs among the 8,000 staff that have already been stood down. Australia’s Flight Centre Travel Group said it would cut 6,000 travel agent roles globally.

In a move unthinkable under normal conditions, Australia’s competition regulator said it would allow Virgin, Qantas Airways and Regional Express to temporarily coordinate schedules and share revenue on 10 regional routes.

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EU lawmakers back suspension of airline slots rule until October

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European lawmakers overwhelmingly agreed on Thursday to suspend until Oct. 24 a rule requiring airlines to use at least 80% of their flight slots to keep them the following year so as to ease an industry crisis unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Following a deal reached last week by envoys of the EU’s 27 member states, the European Parliament voted in its first-ever remote session in Brussels to suspend the EU slots rule until the summer season ends in late October as European flights fell 60% this week with several major airlines forced to ground their fleets.

The last time the EU waived the airport slots rule was in 2009 because of the financial crisis. EU governments will still need to approve the final agreement but that is seen as a formality.

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IATA pleads for more help for airlines after U.S. offers $58 billion aid

DUBAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) on Thursday urged the world’s major economies to act quickly to prevent irreversible damage to an airline industry that has seen demand crushed by the coronavirus crisis.

A number of governments have already stepped in to help airlines hammered by the virus-induced travel slump, with the United States offering $58 billion in aid, Singapore promising to keep its carrier aloft, and Australia easing competition rules.

As leaders from the Group of 20 nations met for a video summit, the world’s largest airline body asked governments in an open letter to provide or facilitate financial support for the industry.

“The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe and the resulting government-mandated border closings and travel restrictions have led to the destruction of air travel demand,” IATA Chief Executive Alexandre de Juniac wrote.

Underlining the industry’s plight, AirAsia, the region’s biggest budget carrier, became the latest airline to announce sweeping cuts to its schedule in response to the deepening crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. It said some of its businesses would halt flights altogether for a period.

“Many airlines have been paying out more in refunds than they have received in new booking revenues,” said de Juniac, a former head of Air France-KLM.

Related Coverage

  • IATA urges G20 to support airline industry
  • Pilots' union criticises UK's coronavirus job retention scheme

“As a result, the average two-month cash reserves held by airlines are rapidly being exhausted,” he added, calling for direct financial support, loans or tax relief.

LOADING CARGO

In a desperate bid to preserve some revenues and keep global supply chains operating, U.S. Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways joined a list of carriers that have turned passenger planes into cargo-only transporters.

About half of the world’s air cargo normally travels in the bellies of passenger planes, so the cancellation of passenger flights has led to a sharp reduction in cargo capacity, with knock-on effects to food, industry and other vital trade.

In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Senate passed a $58 billion aid package late on Wednesday, half in the form of grants to cover some 750,000 airline staff wages. Those receiving funds cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30 or change collective bargaining pacts. [L1N2BI0XW]

The bill has restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive pay, and allows the government to take equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to back the move on Friday. President Donald Trump has promised to sign it.

PAYING A HEAVY PRICE

U.S. airlines, like others around the globe, have been reeling from the slide in passenger numbers.

United Airlines Holdings said capacity would drop 68% in April and Alaska Air Group cut its schedule by 70% for April and May. American Airlines suspended its dividend, drew down a $400 million credit line and secured an additional loan.

IATA, which estimates the pandemic will cost the global industry $252 billion in lost revenues this year, said earlier it had written to 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, Japan and South Korea for emergency support for carriers.

Singapore’s finance minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore Airlines Ltd would soon announce “corporate action” supported by state investor Temasek Holdings to tackle the crisis. Share trading in the carrier, which said this week it was seeking extra funds, was halted on Thursday.

Australia and New Zealand have joined other governments in announcing some financial relief. But this has not stopped carriers from putting staff on leave and grounding planes.

Virgin Australia plans to permanently cut more than 1,000 jobs among the 8,000 staff that have already been stood down. Australia’s Flight Centre Travel Group said it would cut 6,000 travel agent roles globally.

In a move unthinkable under normal conditions, Australia’s competition regulator said it would allow Virgin, Qantas Airways and Regional Express to coordinate flight schedules and share revenue on 10 regional routes.

“We hope that this temporary measure will also support airlines’ ability to again compete with each other on these routes once the pandemic crisis has passed,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims said.

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U.S. Senate offers $58 billion aid to airlines as they struggle to stay airborne

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate offered struggling airlines unprecedented aid worth $58 billion that will helping cover their staff wages, as carriers around the world seek state support and turn passenger planes into cargo liners in their desperate bid for revenues.

The coronavirus crisis has ravaged the travel industry and grounded many of the world’s planes, prompting governments to take previously unthinkable steps to prevent bankruptcies, ranging from state handouts to temporarily halting competition rules.

“For airlines, it’s apocalypse now,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents carriers around the world.

“Travel restrictions and evaporating demand mean that, aside from cargo, there is almost no passenger business,” he said.

IATA, which estimates the pandemic will cost the global industry $252 billion in lost revenues this year, said it had written to 18 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, Japan and South Korea for emergency support for carriers.

Airlines UK, representing carriers in Britain, asked the government for tax and air traffic fee holidays.

The U.S. Senate passed an industry aid package, half in the form of grants to cover some 750,000 employees’ paychecks. Companies receiving funds cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30 or change collective bargaining agreements.

The bill has restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive pay, and allows the government to take equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package.

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to back the move on Friday. President Donald Trump has promised to sign it.

United Airlines Holdings said capacity would drop by 68% in April and Alaska Air Group said it would cut its schedule by 70% in April and May. American Airlines suspended its dividend, drew down a $400 million credit line and secured an additional loan.

CUTTING JOBS

In Asian countries, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand have announced some financial relief for airlines, but this has not stopped carriers from putting staff on leave and grounding planes.

Singapore’s finance minister Heng Swee Keat said Singapore Airlines Ltd would soon announce “corporate action” supported by state investor Temasek Holdings to tackle the crisis. Share trading in the carrier, which said this week it was seeking extra funds, was halted on Thursday.

Virgin Australia plans to permanently cut more than 1,000 jobs among the 8,000 staff that have already been stood down. Australia’s Flight Centre Travel Group said it would cut 6,000 travel agent roles globally.

In a move unthinkable under normal conditions, Australia’s competition regulator said it would allow Virgin, Qantas Airways and Regional Express to coordinate flight schedules and share revenue on 10 regional routes.

“We hope that this temporary measure will also support airlines’ ability to again compete with each other on these routes once the pandemic crisis has passed,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims said.

In bid to raise revenue and keep some planes flying, Delta Air Lines and Air New Zealand joined others in offering cargo flights and charters on passenger planes.

About half of the world’s air cargo normally travels in the bellies of passenger planes, so the cancellation of passenger flights has led to a sharp reduction in cargo capacity.

“We’ve shared these options with our global cargo customer base and are getting some strong interest from customers wanting to ship to and from Shanghai, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sydney and Melbourne,” said Rick Nelson, Air New Zealand’s general manager for cargo.

Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways said it would operate 34 weekly cargo-only flights with Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger jets to India, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea.

Hawaiian Airlines said it had added more cargo-only turboprop flights between the state’s islands.

Roughly 1,800 planes had been grounded globally on Monday and Tuesday, according to aviation research firm Cirium.

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